By Abdoulaye Massalaki
NIAMEY (Reuters) - Algeria and Niger have started to repatriate 3,000 citizens of Niger who crossed into Algeria illegally, as part of a bid to stop people-smuggling to North Africa and Europe, authorities said on Wednesday.
The Algerian Red Crescent society took a first group of around 300 people to the remote border town of In Guezzam in the Sahara on Tuesday for transfer to Niger, according to Niger's Association for the Defense of Human Rights.
At least three-quarters of the returnees are children and almost all the rest are women. Many worked as beggars in Algeria, Niger Prime Minister Brigi Rafini told parliament in November.
The repatriations are part of a planned crackdown on migrants hoping to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, many of whom have reached cities in northern Algeria and set up camps near the coast. Many would-be migrants traverse Niger.
Niger announced in June it would repatriate its citizens living clandestinely in Algeria and Rafini said the program would be conducted with the Algerian government.
Authorities in Niger will return the people to their villages and help them re-integrate, Rafini said.
Residents from Niger fled a camp in Algeria this week when they got wind of the repatriation program, according to an e-mail from Algerian human rights group Meeting and Development.
"It is not easy to manage information in this situation. People need to know what will happen to these people once they have returned home," the Algerian group said.
The deaths in northern Niger of 92 migrants in the desert en route to Algeria in 2013 stirred outrage in Niger and prompted government action to stem the flow, but the effort has been only partly successful.
(Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Larry King)